The Lions were more predictable when it came to the draft, at least when general manager Bob Quinn still had a job there. They had a type, and it usually matched with the expected talent available in their draft range.
Even amid the flurry of trade-down reports for Detroit, and even with the subtle game of footsie the Lions played with Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in the pre-draft process, we kept mocking them Ohio State cornerback Jeffrey Okudah. We got that pick right, even if Okudah’s early struggles have made that selection a highly debatable one now.
But at No. 4, the real draft drama unfolded.
Connected to virtually all of the draft’s top offensive tackles, it sure looked like that was the spot GM Dave Gettleman would hit first. Which one?
NFL evaluators we spoke with generally had four prospects ranked at the head of the class, albeit in different orders: Jedrick Wills Jr., Tristan Wirfs, Mekhi Becton and Andrew Thomas.
Our order differed slightly — Wirfs, Wills, Becton, then Thomas — but all four were ranked in our top 12 overall prospects.
When the Giants made Georgia’s Thomas the pick, it was not universally beloved. And when Thomas struggled early this season, while the other three tackles were thriving elsewhere, the wolves came back out again.
Gettleman is an easy target. His draft-related decisions, especially his early picks, have roundly been derided. Taking Saquon Barkley over a quarterback at No. 2. Drafting Daniel Jones at No. 6 over … well, anyone.
Plus, Gettleman didn’t care what people thought about his drafting methods, which cranked up the derision more. It was as much assumed as it was speculated that the Giants, especially after their 1-7 start, would be seeking Gettleman’s replacement come January.
So, things have changed.
Year 1 is no time to stamp any kind of final draft judgment; three years is a lot better. But in the past few months, the Giants’ 2020 draft class continues to look remarkably better.
And wouldn’t you know it? The Giants, winners of four straight, could now become the league’s first 1-7 team to make the postseason.
Even in the grotty NFC East, that’s impressive. This rookie crop has been a big part of that development. (Hat tip to NFL Network’s Gil Brandt for pointing this out.)
As it turns out, the Giants’ rookie class looks like it could be a foundational group for the franchise. Could it be enough to save Gettleman’s job?
Almost every Giants 2020 pick has contributed
The Giants made 10 selections in the 2020 draft. Seven of those picks landed on Day 3, and four of them were seventh-rounders. They also sent a third-round pick (No. 68 overall) to the New York Jets for defensive tackle Leonard Williams.
A theme emerged in the Giants’ draft: They doubled up at multiple positions.
After taking Thomas at No. 4, they swung back in Round 3 to grab Connecticut OT Matt Peart. After nabbing UCLA CB Darnay Holmes in the fourth, they came back in Round 7 with Minnesota CB Chris Williamson.
And for good measure, they tripled up at linebacker on Day 3: Penn State’s Cameron Brown in Round 6; plus, South Carolina’s T.J. Brunson and Georgia’s Tae Crowder. The other three 2020 picks all read as solid to good selections: Alabama safety Xavier McKinney in Round 2, Oregon guard Shane Lemieux in Round 5 and Minnesota EDGE Carter Coughlin in the seventh.
Our post-draft assessment of the class: We liked it but frankly didn’t love it. We’re now forced to revise our take on that matter.
At one point we called Gettleman’s approach to the Giants’ 2020 draft class “circumspect.” Perhaps that wasn’t wrong, as there might not be a future star in the group other than Thomas.
Those early sentiments seemed to be backed up by the reader poll we ran for the Giants’ draft grades. Most voters settled on a B (36 percent) or a C (27 percent). Our grade of a C+ fell right between those. But 21 percent of our polltakers gave the Giants either a D or an F; only 16 percent felt the class deserved an A.
To land so many Year 1 contributors from the draft — almost every one of the 10 picks, plus Williams — is tremendous for a team that badly lacked depth and talent last season. This group is closer to an A grade than it is to a C, at least so far.
Peart actually outplayed Thomas early on, but Thomas has looked like a far better player in recent games. Thomas also caught a two-point conversion against the Dallas Cowboys. Lemieux has started five games at left guard and has been used as an extra blocker (fullback and tight end), too.
McKinney returned to the lineup two weeks ago from a fractured foot and now gives the Giants four nice options at safety. He figures to be a bigger part of the defense in 2021 but looks like he’ll get worked into the rotation more down the stretch.
Crowder — aka, Mr. Irrelevant, the final pick of the 2020 draft — has made a name for himself, starting three of the past four games, with a sack and a team-high seven tackles in Sunday’s shocking win over the Seattle Seahawks. He also scored what ended up being the game-winning TD on a fumble recovery in the crucial win over the Washington Football Team in Week 6.
Another standout in the Seattle game was Holmes, who bounced back from a missed tackle to make a crucial interception of Russell Wilson. Holmes has manned the slot almost the entire season and has been a great contributor.
Brown, Coughlin and Brunson have become core special-teams performers. And two undrafted rookies, wideout Austin Mack and EDGE Niko Lalos, have become unexpected rookie contributors. Lalos’ story is really something, earning LeBron James’ praise on Twitter before his NFL debut — and then backing it up hours later by making a diving interception off a pass that was tipped by his fellow rookie, Holmes.
The only draft pick from April not to suit up for the Giants this season has been Williamson, who remains on the practice squad. For a general manager whose draft decisions had become backpage fodder the past few years, this appears to be a banner class by Gettleman and his staff.
Could this group help save Dave Gettleman’s job?
Ultimately, the decision to keep Gettleman comes down to Giants ownership. If team owners John Mara and Steve Tisch want to keep him, they will. If not, they won’t — even as Mara has called Gettleman part of the Giants’ “family” in the past.
Remember, it was just about a year ago today when the Giants announced they’d be retaining Gettleman. The fact that it required a statement from ownership two years after they brought Gettleman back into the fold tells you everything you need to know about how tenuous his spot was.
“Steve and I decided to retain Dave and give him a chance to finish what he has started, which includes so many changes in this organization that people really don’t know about,” Mara said.
It read as a warning: Better nail this offseason, or else.
Many of the veterans the Giants brought aboard have helped. James Bradberry is unquestionably the team’s best corner. Blake Martinez has been terrific at middle linebacker. Colt McCoy, filling in for an injured Jones, made enough plays in the Seattle win. Kyler Fackrell had a pick six and three sacks before landing on injured reserve. Cameron Fleming has started all 12 games at tackle.
And Williams, the highest-profile veteran the Giants acquired, has been reborn. He has set himself up for a nice payday with a career-best 8.5 sacks, with 6.5 coming in the past seven games.
On top of that, the hiring of Joe Judge — after a few rough early patches when he was labeled just another failed former Bill Belichick acolyte — seems to be going well. Judge’s hiring of defensive coordinator Patrick Graham appears to be a low-key grand slam, to the point where Graham might earn some head-coaching interviews this offseason.
All of that, plus the banner rookie crop, points to one conclusion: Gettleman and his scouting staff quietly nailed the offseason, at least so far.
Perhaps a few years from now, this draft class might look quite different. Maybe Thomas ends up the fourth-best of that OT quartet. And two years is an eternity in the NFL for coaches’ reputations. Just ask Matt Nagy, Anthony Lynn and Doug Pederson.
But there’s little doubt Gettleman deserves to keep his job for another offseason cycle. Pair up his team’s offseason moves against Detroit’s, and you can see how many solid decisions the Giants racked up — and how few the Lions did. Quinn received a similar ultimatum from Lions ownership, and he didn’t even last the entire 2020 season.
Gettleman has his share of critics, and there are times when it’s justified. But it’s time to recognize what he did to bolster the Giants this offseason — and, we suspect, save his own job.
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